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Why doctors are about to prescribe surfing and dancing in England

November 30, 2022

Teenagers who experience depression and anxiety will be prescribed activities such as surfing, rollerskating and dancing as part of a mental health trial in England. Doctors in 10 regions will have the option to prescribe these activities to people aged 11 to 18. 

The participants will be monitored by researchers at University College London to see whether it boosts their mental wellbeing. Some studies have shown that time spent outdoors in nature can have as great an effect on mental health as antidepressants. Though more research is needed, evidence suggests that in some cases prescribing activities to patients can boost health without the need for medical intervention. 

Social prescribing is being increasingly adopted by GPs in the UK to treat people with mental health problems but the vast majority of referrals are for adults. The treatment works by connecting people to non-medical forms of support within the community, such as skills development and training programs, including befriending schemes and cultural activities to empower individuals and address the social determinants of ill health.

The trial is being run by academics from University College London, and those involved will also be able to take part in music, sport and exercise and attend youth clubs. Each young person will be able to choose which activity they want to try, with the help of a ‘buddy’ or link worker.

 “Social prescribing has been rolled out nationally by the NHS since 2018, but unfortunately many children and young people are not engaging in social prescribing and the evidence base for this population is still in its infancy.”, said Dr. Daisy Fancourt, the UCL mental health expert running the trial.

If participation proves successful the NHS may seek to make such activities available across England as a way of helping the many thousands of young people who face what can be months-long delays in accessing formal treatment, during which time their condition often worsens.

Source: University College London | NHS England